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Friday, January 29, 2010

*Collaborative* reputation protection

"The 'Protecting Reputations Online' video should be mandatory viewing for students," wrote/tweeted Bernajean Porter, an educator I admire, in Twitter this week. So I watched it (it's just under 3 minutes) – and was reminded of how collaborative reputation protection is these days. Because "digital" means social, young people are not acting all by themselves in a vacuum – they're sharing text, photos, and videos and, through them, talking about themselves and each other. That's the most important point in the video, I think: that there's a mutual dependency on and responsibility for each other's good name and reputation in social media. We truly are in this together – not just peers, but parents, educators, all of us. Nobody's operating in a vacuum in today's media. Tell your kids: "Your friends affect your reputation – you need their help in maintaining it and vice versa." Here are reputation-management tips and just-released research from Microsoft, and youth-specific resources from the American School Counselor Association and

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

MN mom expects $0 penalty for file-sharing

It has been a big news week for file-sharers, music fans, and copyright lawyers. Days after a judge reduced the file-sharing penalty for Minnesota mother of four Jammie Thomas-Rasset from $1.92 million to about $54,000, the recording industry offered to settle for $25,000, but Thomas-Rasset turned the offer down, CNET reports. "Sibley and Camara had already said that they planned to challenge even the lowered amount set by the court. Sibley told CNET last week they have always sought a $0 award." US District Judge Michael Davis had said earlier in his ruling that "the $1.92 million fine ... was 'monstrous and shocking'," the San Jose Mercury News reported. "Davis wrote in his ruling he would have liked to reduce it further but was limited in doing so. He said the new penalty is still 'significant and harsh'," but he denied Thomas-Rasset's request for a new trial. The $1.92 million in damages awarded the RIAA last summer "are eight times more than Thomas-Rasset ... was ordered to pay the first time she faced six record companies in court on claims that she downloaded more than 1,700 songs," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported last summer. "The judge granted a retrial after deciding that he had wrongly instructed the jury." The Star-Tribune added that, of the more than 30,000 suits brought by the RIAA against alleged file-sharers, Thomas-Rasset's was the only one to go to a jury trial, much less two such trials. Meanwhile, here's a thoughtful "letter" from a professional musician to a mom worried about her son's file-sharing, among other things distinguishing between privacy and file-sharing, and The Guardian recently declared "The strange death of illegal downloading." [See also a New Yorker interview with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood on the "MP3 generation."]

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'Sext education': US- and Canada-based resources

Citing new US figures showing that two-thirds of 8-to-18-year-olds own cellphones, Canada's CBC points to a new Web site designed to educate people about texting – – "set up by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, in partnership with Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association." The CBC says it includes "sext ed," but I don't see much in the site specifically about photo-sharing, and there – slightly frustratingly – isn't a search box in the site that allowed me to search for "sext ed." But for parents there's an "acronictionary" with abbreviations and acronyms often used in text messages, and for kids there's a "Need help now" form, which they can fill out and which promises to get back to senders within 24 hours. From here in the US, PC Magazine's John Dvorak offers 7 reputation-protection tips that "can save your kids – and you – from a lifetime of online embarrassment" (offline too!). They cover everything from Twitter and Facebook to blogging and vlogging to video chat on Stickam (take special note of that last genre, parents – not a good place for kids in online stealth mode). See also's "sext ed" and "Sexting: New study & the 'Truth or Dare' scenario." As for anti-sexting legislation, here's a commentary from Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use offering ways to adjust laws so as to help rather than harm youth.

[The new US data the CBC refers to is from the just-released Kaiser Family Foundation study I blogged about and linked to in "Major study on youth & media: Let's take a closer look."]

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Sexism in sexting case?

A federal court of appeals in Philadelphia is expected soon to decide the first case about the criminal prosecution of teens for sexting. One side – that of George Skumanick, who in 2006 was district attorney for Pennsylvania's Wyoming County – argued that the DA "was trying to protect the teens from themselves and potential child predators." The other side, the ACLU, argued that "the prosecutor cannot accuse the girls of being pornographers under the guise of protecting them from pornographers," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Two of the photos involved depicted two 12-year-old girls in their underwear; a third photo in a separate situation, depicted a 16-year-old girl nude from the waist up. [In this case's first trial, in March 2009, US District Judge James M. Munley "sided with the ACLU and issued an injunction that blocked Skumanick from bringing charges, declaring that the photographs were not child pornography under Pennsylvania law," reports.] After learning that the photos were circulating, the school confiscated some phones and turned them over to the DA's office. "Interestingly, none of the classmates who distributed the photos received letters from Skumanick. Only the girls who appeared in the photos were threatened with child porn charges," writes the ACLU in its blog. "If the DA did in fact regard these photos as pornographic, why not file distribution charges against the boys? A clue may be found in their argument before the 3rd Circuit. In narrating the case, their attorney explained how, after the girls were photographed, 'high school boys did as high school boys will do, and traded the photos among themselves'.

"The boys who traded the photos bear no responsibility and require no re-education," the ACLU blogger writes, referring to a letter Skumanick sent the girls' parents threatening prosecution if the girls didn't take a "five-week re-education program of his own design, which included topics like 'what it means to be a girl in today's society'." Only the girls were threatened with felony charges and sex-offender registration. It was one of the Third Circuit judges who raised "the central question" of the case, the blogger concluded: During arguments, Judge Thomas L. Ambro said, "Should we allow the state to force children, by threat of prosecution, to attend a session espousing the views of one particular government official on what it means to be a girl?"

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cyberbullying & bullying-related suicides: 1 way to help our digital-age kids

How do we help our children maintain some detachment from the drama, sometimes cruelty, of school life? This, I think, is the central question of online safety, if not child development, in the digital age. It has just become national news that 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Mass., and very recently of western Ireland, committed suicide January 14 because of fellow students' social cruelty online and offline, in and out of school, according to ABC News and the Boston Herald. Last month the country learned of 13-year-old Florida student Hope Witsell's suicide last fall (I posted about that in ConnectSafely's forum here).

Detachment from 'The Drama'

Each of these cases is highly individual, but what they all seem to have in common is the 24/7, non-stop nature of the harassment the teens faced – the tech-enabled constant drama of school life turning into 24/7 cruelty. Phoebe's and Hope's tragedies indicate an urgent need for all of us to help our children come up for air, to maintain some perspective about the "alternate reality" of school life, especially in the middle-school years.

Technology mustn't be the focus of either blame or solution development because it's not the source of the problem; social cruelty is. But technology – if not used with a sense of perspective or balance – can "tether" a child to the cruel behavior. I get that word from MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, who refers to today's communications tools (the social Web, cellphones, etc.) as "tethering technologies" in her paper about "The Tethered Self." She discusses how they remove us from our physical surroundings. I think their constant use can also affect our sense of context psychologically too – everybody's, not just kids', but adolescents have a lot to deal with just developmentally, so perspective can be extra helpful to them.

We hear a lot that we need to think about the implications of giving our children mobile devices that make them as available to their peers as they are to us. But let's look at one of the implications: Kids' and their peers' moment-by-moment mood changes, blow-by-blow gossip, and good and bad behavior mutually accessible as long as their communications devices are on. In other words, constant drama – often heightened by kids who enjoy fueling it, whether for entertainment, as a prank, or out of malice.

How we can help

What we don't hear enough is that there are ways we – parents, school personnel, police, and policymakers – can help our kids and teens. We can help them...

  • Get perspective and maybe a little mental detachment from peers as well as "the drama"
  • Do the identity exploration that's a key task of adolescence as themselves," as individuals, and not only or always in relation to their peers
  • Have a little time for reflection
  • Realize the importance of self-respect and know they have our respect.

    In other words, we can help them to be able – when needed – psychologically to disengage just so they can think straight and actually see that their life is not that drama at school or online, and they are never the person any bullies could ever make them out to be.

    Tampa-area schools are discussing (I think much-needed) parent-notification rules, the Tampa Tribune reports and Massachusetts lawmakers are "stepping up efforts to pass an anti-bullying measure," the Boston Globe reports. These are important pieces of the puzzle, but I hope that school officials, legislators, and parents 1) don't create policy and law based solely on the worst tragedies and 2) do help children learn how to maintain perspective, self-respect, and respect for others amid the info and behavioral overload of the digital age. This is the protective nature of social-media literacy and citizenship – the new online safety.

    Related links

  • Whether or not they all make sense for your family, at least some of Marian Merritt's 7 household tech-use rules (at the bottom of her post) can help parents help kids keep "The Drama" under control. Merritt, Norton's Internet Safety Advocate, is blogging about the Kaiser Family Foundation study on US 8-to-18-year-olds' media use – I posted about it here.
  • Youth (and parent) mentor Annie Fox helps a girl having suicidal thoughts: "For teens: What can I do about these rumors?"
  • How the social Web helps stop suicide (in The Daily Beast) and an example of suicide averted, thanks to social networking
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says peers are the best source of referrals to the Lifeline, usually via social network sites, especially MySpace – not a toll-free phone number – but that number is 1-800-273-TALK. The Lifeline coordinates the work of more than 100 toll-free help centers around the US, getting calls and cases to the center nearest the person needing help, and help not just for suicidal crisis, but depression, domestic violence, and all sorts of needs (more people need to know about that).
  • "Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth"
  •'s "Tips to Help Stop Sexting"

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  • Monday, January 25, 2010

    China requires filtering in schools

    Perhaps a sign that there are more and more computers in the schools of this giant developing country that has more Internet users than the US has population, China is now requiring Net-filtering in schools. "According to the Ministry of Education, local education departments and schools should guide students in different age groups to 'properly handle cyber world' and encourage them to report any suspicious websites" as part of its anti-porn campaign, reports. The basic difference between this development in China and the US's school filtering is a law passed in 2000 (the Children's Internet Protection Act, or CIPA) that required schools receiving federal "e-rate" technology subsidies to employ filtering. I was surprised that the Chinese government, well-known for its Net censorship skills (when my family was traveling there in 2008, we couldn't access our travel blog on what was then a very new blogging service called, was only now instituting school filtering – which is why I think this is more a sign of better tech and other resources in Chinese schools than an oversight on the government's part. China may be "catching up" on the sexting front too: Digital Journal cites China's Xinhua news service as reporting that "China Mobile, the nation's largest mobile network carrier, said sending mobile porn, either through photos or messages, could have the phone number revoked permanently." As for those Net-use numbers, the San Jose Mercury News reports that China has 384 million Internet users. "The number of people going online by mobile phone rose 106% [last year] to 233 million" (8% of whom access the Net only by phone).

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    Help with cyberbullying on YouTube

    Say you're 15, care greatly about a particular environmental cause, and use your YouTube account to vlog (video blog) about it in an earnest way that triggers some really nasty comments on your page. What do you do? YouTube has some tips it blogged with just that scenario in mind, linking to the National Crime Prevention Council's new anti-cyberbullying campaign, Circle of Respect, which came up with the scenario and illustrates it here. The tips are good, basically saying: 1) Delete the comments and consider blocking the user; 2) Report hate speech (comments on race, gender, or disability); 3) If physical threats (which are illegal) are involved, talk with a trusted adult about whether to call 911; and last but far from least: 4) Be respectful yourself – treating others with civility is protective. I base that on a finding published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine in 2007: that aggressive behavior online more than doubles the aggressor's risk of victimization. For a much more thorough guide to parenting in the video age, see kid-tech expert Warren Buckleitner in the New York Times. [Meanwhile, the Italian government is getting considerable flak for proposing new Web-video rules that would require users to get clearance from the Communications Ministry before uploading their videos to sites like YouTube, The Standard reports.]

    Related links

  • Our "Top 10 Safety Tips for Video-Sharing" at
  • "Parents face a new frontier: Setting electronic limits," with some individual family strategies in the Washington Post
  • Why "soft power" parenting works better here in NetFamilyNews.

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